If tonight's rain delay had lasted longer than an hour, Davey Johnson said he was going to pull Stephen Strasburg from the game. That was the "drop-dead" point for Strasburg, as far as the Nationals' skipper was concerned.
I guess it's a good thing the delay was just 51 minutes.
Strasburg stepped back on the mound after the rain delay, which hit Nats Park in the top of the third inning, and immediately got into a zone. He wasn't bad before heavy rain forced the stoppage, giving up two singles over 2 2/3 innings, but was nearly unhittable afterwards. He finished his six-inning outing having allowed one run on four hits with 10 strikeouts.
"It was just a dominant outing," manager Davey Johnson said. "He seemed to have a good idea of what he wanted to do, and he was doing it."
During the delay, Strasburg threw in the batting cage to try and keep his arm warm. Under the watchful eye of pitching coach Steve McCatty, he threw 10-15 pitches, sat down for a bit, threw 10-15 more and then rested again. By that point, the rain was wrapping up and Strasburg went out to the outfield to start long-tossing.
Given how careful the Nationals have been and will continue to be with Strasburg (as well as many of their young pitchers), it wouldn't have been a major surprise to see Johnson go to his bullpen after the delay ended. But with his 'pen taxed and the grounds crew doing quick work on the wet field, Johnson was OK with sending Strasburg back out once play resumed.
"I was thinking, if I get five (innings from him), I'm going to be comfortable with that," Johnson said.
Because Strasburg was so effective and efficient after the delay, Johnson got one more than that.
"I think I started to settle in," Strasburg said. "I wasn't out there pitching (during the delay), but the adrenaline kind of died down and I went out there and felt like I was really catching my groove."
Once the game resumed, Strasburg attacked right from the get-go. He struck out Martin Prado looking on a curveball which buckled the knees of the Braves' .296-hitting left fielder, ending the third inning with a bang.
"Each outing, each inning, he's learning more about what he wants to do," Johnson said. "He's controlling what he wants the catcher to do more. It's fun watching."
Strasburg went on to strike out six of the first eight hitters he faced after the delay, mowing them down with a mix of mitt-popping fastballs, sharp changeups and big, breaking curveballs. He struck out the side in the fifth, needing just 13 pitches to blow away three straight Braves.
The change was effective, but both Strasburg and Johnson said it was the curve which was the money pitch tonight.
"When he throws that curveball like that, I mean, that's a whole new dimension," Johnson said. "I mean, you don't see big league hitters very often pull back. You saw that several times tonight. That's how electric his stuff was."
"That was a big thing, that I've been able to start throwing (the curve) more for strikes early and whenever I try and do too much with my changeup or finesse it up there, it gets hit," Strasburg said. "So I wanted to keep that in my back pocket and really work off fastball, sinker, curveball."
Strasburg remarked that tonight reminded him a lot of his major league debut, with the crowd roaring and the energy flowing throughout Nats Park. There won't be many of these games left this season for the big right-hander, but he's not looking ahead to the shutdown which is now the talk of the sports world.
"It's funny, nobody talks to me personally about it," Strasburg said, "so obviously I can either scour the internet or watch all the stuff being said on TV or I can just keep pitching and watch the Golf Channel, I guess."
If Strasburg keeps pitching like this, racking up strikeouts and piling up wins, his safe haven might be gone. They'll probably start talking about him on the Golf Channel, as well.